Readers of this blog know that Twitter is one of the best tools for covering breaking news.
But if you listen to and read the Twitter haters, you also hear that Twitter is a place where false rumors spread rapidly. My reply to that is that Twitter is a form of communication, and rumors spread on all forms of communication. A great example of that is the false report of Gordon Lightfoot’s death. Yes, it spread on Twitter. But it started by word of mouth, where rumors have been circulating since humans first mastered speech. And its big spread came when it was reported (without verification) by a professional news outlet. So how did that become Twitter’s fault?
My experience with the Gordon Lightfoot rumor was that I first saw a tweet shooting down the rumor, then saw one or two tweets spreading the rumor and dozens saying it wasn’t true. I noted at the time (on Twitter, of course) that Twitter was actually a great rumor-correcting platform.
Well, researchers from Yahoo! have confirmed both Twitter’s usefulness in spreading news and its effectiveness in correcting rumors. “The Twitter community works like a collaborative filter of information,” reported researchers Marcelo Mendoza, Barbara Poblete and Carlos Castillo. They studied Twitter use following the Feb. 27 earthquake in Chile. In the Santiago time zone, the researchers found 4.7 million Spanish-language tweets from 716,344 users spreading the word about the earthquake.
Digging deeper, the researchers identified seven false rumors about the quake and seven confirmed truths and analyzed the traffic about those reports. They categorized tweets as affirming the report, denying it or questioning it. For the accurate reports, almost all the tweets (96 percent) affirmed the report. One of the rumors was about a tsunami that hit Iloca and Duao. The government initially ignored the tsunami, but even without official reports, word of the event spread quickly and accurately on Twitter. On the other hand, for the false rumors, including one that singer Ricardo Arjona had died, tweets denying and questioning the rumor actually constituted a majority (55 percent).
“Our results, on a small set of cases, indicate that false rumors tend to be questioned much more than confirmed truths,” the researchers said.
See a related blog post, Twitter After a Disaster: Is It Reliable? by the Wall Street Journal’s Jennifer Valentino-DeVries.